Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
I gazed into the whitewashed canvas that stubbornly occupied my computer screen. Two months and four drafts into my quest for that elusive “killer college essay,” I was back at square one. Zero words. Zero breakthroughs. Zero inspiration.
My first draft was a book-flap summary of my research for history fair. Boring. Next came an over-the-top extended metaphor written in third person. Weird. The third feeble attempt featured superficial descriptions of food and my supposed “love” for culinary delights. Clichéd. At this point, my frustrations were so pronounced that my parents threw me on a plane headed for the West Coast–because maybe travel could be an antidote to a month-long writer’s block. Nope. Out of this trip came my most disorganized handiwork yet–a rambling tale about the bloody Golden Gate hidden in morning fog.
Slowly, the longstanding paradigm propping up my self-worth as a semi-capable writer was caving in like a house of cards, and the ruins of that former edifice began to be besieged by a creeping self-doubt. At that moment, my mind settled upon a memory from sophomore year–a seemingly ordinary conversation during school lunch.
I just don’t think it’s appropriate to talk trash behind people’s backs … like, what is there to say behind my back? I casually threw out the question as a follow-up to some trivial, juicy gossip.
Exactly! Nothing. People think you’re too boring, Alex, my friend replied. I mean, what do you do in your free time? You don’t play sports, video games … Do you just study and practice violin?
Somehow, the unfiltered, well-intentioned advice for me to spice up my life clung to my mind like a stubborn adhesive. You’re a boring person, Alex, and of course, a monotone lived reality won’t churn out any gripping and creative stories on paper.
Having searched in vain for an elusive muse, I decided to turn to my mom–the writing guru of the family whose colorful prose has reached far and wide, landed front pages, and whipped up storms of comments.
“You know, you’re not really a bad writer,” Mom suggested. “But don’t you feel like sometimes you blow up your pieces to really pompous proportions? I mean, writing a personal statement in third person, strong-arming the Golden Gate into being your extended metaphor…”
She held up her hand. “Do you know why people read the stuff I write?” Uh-uh. “Because it’s so mundane. It’s about the dullness of family life, relationships, raising children. You may think this is all too boring, but sometimes it’s precisely these things that strike the perfect resonance–because they are unique and universal, they are real, and they are lived.”
“But how else do I stand out as not boring? Take out the flashy elements, what is my writing left with?”
My mom smiled. “Your own story.”
That night, I did in two hours what I couldn’t in two months. Words spilled upon the pixelated pages like refreshing streams that leaked from a dried-up faucet. I pinned down the story that should’ve been excavated weeks ago–the story of how I tapped the power of writing to contrast the mimicry and misinformation running amok on WeChat. My message, stripped of metaphorical and philosophical ornaments, felt simple, tight, and maybe a tad bit “boring,” yet it came together in one fluid stroke that salvaged a writing operation near shambles just hours ago. As I reached the tail of the piece, I felt my heartbeat quicken in anticipation of the climactic crescendo with which I would deliver a simple maxim–something that I would’ve needed to hear as a writer who almost threw down the pen.
Listen to me. Listen to you. Listen to each other. For we all have our stories to tell. No matter how boring we sound, no matter how dull the ebbs and flows of our existence.
In a way, we are all stories, binded by our boring, nondescript textile covers, and writing is the audacity to set these stories free.
Nevertheless, my wrestle-match with writer’s block was perennial–because despite my supposed love of creative writing, assembling words on a screen would always be an agonizing soul-search in danger of finding nothing but an unremarkable, dull void.
Six months later, I sat in my Georgetown dorm, staring into the whitewashed face of my archnemesis–the blank screen with a lone, flashing text cursor. For the final paper of our literature class, we were charged with the Herculean task of giving a piercing 2000-word manifesto on what it means to write. Having scrapped a couple nonsense ideas and outlines squeezed out by my constipated mind, I decided to let my thoughts wonder…
I remembered the wrinkled, wary covers wrapped around our course’s required texts, sloppy binding threatening to give away, feebly fluttering pages with splattered ink and highlight and spilled coffee that belied these books’ sacred statuses as the progenies of literary giants, the likes of Voltaire, Adichie, and Roth.
For the spectators, it was simple. These works are boring–a hodgepodge of words incarnated way too many times as nondescript stacks of yellowing paper. They are cast aside to make way for the flashy, glitzy 3D blockbusters taking the world by storm in a riot of colors, cymbal crashes, and screams. But I also remembered how our class parsed those boring texts, and at some point, we realized that some inner-spirit buried within the unremarkable pages had whirred to life, something that transcended the superficiality of “boringness,” something that dripped of unabashed authenticity, something that permeated an idle mind, morphing into the colorful dynamism of an unprecedented idea.
That something is a story–raw and unembellished, a mirror of reality stripped naked. In a way, we are all stories, binded by our boring, nondescript textile covers, and writing is the audacity to set these stories free.
Suddenly, the monotone canvas in front of me became filled with possibilities, and I began to write…